Missing the cut: Golf development and Shubhankar

Patrick Reed of the US celebrates chipping in for an eagle on the 15th hole during third round play of the 2018 Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
Patrick Reed leads with Rory close behind —The steady stream of ever rising income that fills the lake of Augusta National’s good fortune is partly paid out in dividends to the world community in subtle and interesting ways. Huge sums are invested in the improvement of already meticulous and seemingly perfect infrastructure to further enhance the mystique and delivery of the Masters tournament to about a billion hungry viewers worldwide (I mean that no one has ever returned to tell us what heaven is like, but is surely felt like it already); while gift items are about twice as expensive as what similar products are anywhere else, the on course food and beverages for the patrons of the Masters are kept at decades old prices; the Augusta community and Augusta National are symbiotically entwined with each other culturally, commercially and creatively which makes the second largest city (at 500,000 population) of Georgia, USA a real gem of the South.

But the icing on the cake is the pathbreaking Drive, Pitch and Putt initiative of promoting the joy of this game, in a competitive format, to every young person playing this sport around the globe to not only spread the message that this is a game you can play all your life but also that it is healthful, cheerful and competitive. It helps if you’ve got the financial resources but the real thing is to have the attitude. The Royal and Ancient Club of St Andrews, having also benefitted hugely from the financial success of The Open (the British Open, as many call it), has similarly extended its support to the development of golf worldwide, be it for youngsters, women or men, and their support is unstinted if proper and honest intentions are evident. These initiatives will grow this game which has so many positives (and just a few, only perceived, negatives) into the many countries (China, India, all of ASEAN, all of Central Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa) of the world. These two organisations routinely deliver more to their customers than they promise and that really is the best customer relations ever.

The invitation to Shubhankar Sharma, who had not otherwise qualified by the twenty or so other methods to play at this year’s Masters, was because he was a new sensation in the world and golf could thereby extend its footprint solidly into India, a major opportunity for the growth of golf. India needs many corporates, and Central and State Governments, to come out and openly support this now Olympic sport and thus to develop and provide talent into the pipeline that will lead to great performers on the domestic and International stage. Every capable organisation has a role to play as India is in a nascent stage compared to neighbouring Thailand and even to China.

Many Indians are upset at Shubhankar missing the cut but, missing the cut, especially at the first attempt at the Masters is really no shame. Even Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player have missed the cut here and that too after winning the Green Jacket; Sergio Garcia too has just done it. Tiger and Mickelson squeaked into the cut line but for a while were written off by commentators; it required worse performances by those who had not yet completed their rounds for these two elder statesmen to play over the weekend. Shubhankar was never going to do brilliantly here on his first attempt, and that too without several practice rounds here with great players who could guide him through the pitfalls that abound on this course. Even the best have to “learn“ this course and someone like Shubhankar who has not yet had extensive experience of playing on the PGA tour, has to learn America as well to feel comfortable. Life on the PGA tour is lonely but here is a truly international arena where the competition is keenest, where 
money is the highest, fame and visibility is the greatest and memories (except when one is continuously at the top) are the shortest.

The good news is that, irrespective what Indian scribes, families, friends and well wishers may emotively opine, top international professional golfers and commentators have received his game and poise well. I interviewed Brendan Chamblee, the famous ex pro golfer turned ace TV commentator, writer and coach, on this subject and he expressed considerable praise for his swing and his moves. He felt that here was the first player from India who, being only 21 years old, had at least twenty years to make a real mark on the USPGA tour and thereby to open out the game throughout India and have many young persons to follow his lead. He said he would watch him very carefully as this boy could go far and stay there for a while. Gary Player, a strong votary of rising talent in Asia, is particularly impressed with not only his swing, but also his demeanour and ability to conduct himself publicly. He visits India occasionally and looks forward to conversations with Shubhankar which might benefit the young man in his budd
ing career. Gary went on to say that not making the cut at his first time at the Masters could be the best gift to Shubhankar as such adversity teaches one better than initial success. There were other commentators also who were complimentary!

So, there we are. A young man, highly talented, continuously thankful to all the forces that have presently shaped him, humble in manner and approach, respectful to elders, having a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, brimming with self confidence, always eager to learn and advance, fortunate in solid family support, and to give back to the game. These are several of the ingredients for success.

However, right now his target must be to get invited back to the Masters by crashing into the top fifty in the world barrier and thereby getting an automatic invite. The world wishes that 
he succeeds.

The great disappointment of today’s game, aside from Tiger and Phil still not showing any colour even in such benign conditions, was that Marc Leishman, the talented and much touted Australian, was the only one among the leaders who did not advance at all. Playing in the final pair, he was overshadowed by the singular prowess of Patrick Reed who remained patient through to the 7th hole when things suddenly started going his way. Chipping in for his second eagle of the day on the 15th, he rode a superior game to lead by three shots over McIlroy (who had one of three rounds of 65 today) and eight over Leishman.

It would seem that the tournament belongs to Reed but McIlroy has thrown out an unusual challenge publicly...that he was there to spoil Reed’ s victory parade on the Sunday. He could do it too as playing with Rory brings some special pressures on the other, especially if Rory gets off to a hot start. He has kept patient, playing the course and subsuming his normal aggression so that he would not suffer the fate of the too ambitious. Unless these two don’t score well, the tournament is just between these two as one should consider only those within seven shots off the lead as potential challengers; the chances of both the leaders falling down in the projected benign conditions are very low.

Nonetheless, the scene is set for yet another fantastic finish; nothing is over until the lady sings and that only happens at the end of the final act.
What a tournament this is indeed.

I predict (dangerous occupation) that this is Rory’s moment for creating history by winning a career grand slam.
Aut vincere aut mori!

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